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Sunday, December 1, 2013

NH highway deaths are up this year, but still lower than a decade ago

While the number of deaths on New Hampshire roads is still low compared with decades ago, it grew faster last year than in much of the country.

Last year, 108 people died in 101 crashes in New Hampshire compared with 90 deaths in 94 crashes in 2011, a 20 percent jump, according to New Hampshire Department of Safety statistics. ...

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While the number of deaths on New Hampshire roads is still low compared with decades ago, it grew faster last year than in much of the country.

Last year, 108 people died in 101 crashes in New Hampshire compared with 90 deaths in 94 crashes in 2011, a 20 percent jump, according to New Hampshire Department of Safety statistics.

Across the country, fatal crashes increased by about 3 percent last year, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

New Hampshire’s relatively small number of fatal crashes and deaths makes the comparison less than perfect, but the number of deaths is going in the wrong direction. This, year there have been 115 deaths through Nov. 21, according to Department of Motor Vehicles data, an increase of 20 percent over the same period last year – seven more deaths than in all of 2012.

Peter Thomson, coordinator of the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency, said it’s difficult to pinpoint why deaths spike in any single year, but that the causes of most fatal crashes are well known and have been for years.

“Sometimes it’s weather. Sometimes it’s speed. Sometimes it’s alcohol and drugs,” Thomson said. “We are seeing a lot more drugs when people are driving. It’s just one of those things that are happening now.”

Alcohol remains public enemy No. 1. About 45 percent of the fatal crashes and deaths were alcohol- or drug-related.

Alcohol alone accounted for nearly 30 percent of those deaths, according to New Hampshire State Police data.

Thomson said state officials and law enforcement experts have been working on saturation patrols, dubbed Operation Care. On a random day each month, nearly all state troopers, along with officers from many local departments and sheriff’s offices, coordinate their efforts to patrol for impaired and distracted driving during the morning and evening commutes.

“It’s been very, very helpful,” Thomson said.

While 105 deadly crashes that killed 115 so far this year is more than the last two years, it’s a far cry from the totals of a couple decades ago, or the 2004 high of 158 crashes that killed 171 people.

In fact, the 90 people killed in 2011 and 108 in 2012 are the lowest totals since 1992, according to the state police data.

Seventeen of the 105 deadly crashes in New Hampshire this year have happened in Hillsborough County, the second most in the state behind Rockingham County’s 25 fatal wrecks, according to state data.

Thomson said his agency is evaluating a number of bills proposed for the next legislative session to determine which, if any, to back, including one that would extend a ban on texting while driving to include using anything other than hands-free phone applications while driving.

Nationally, nearly three-quarters of the deadly crashes in 2012 happened in the first three months of the year, and most of the deaths involved motorcycles or pedestrians. Those statistics both increased for the third year in a row.

The increase of 1,082 deaths from 2011 to 2012 marks the first time since 2005 that deadly crashes have increased. The 2011 number was the lowest since 1949, according to the federal data.

Deaths in crashes in which alcohol was involved increased 4.6 percent and killed more than 10,000 people in 2012, and most of those crashes involved drivers whose blood-alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit for driving.

Distracted driving crashes killed more than 3,300 people, only a slight decrease from 2011, but they injured more than ever – 421,000, an increase of 9 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached
at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Cote
on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).